There’s actual dancing in this but think of it more as a metaphor for being in love. The question: shall we try again with love after heartbreak? Like an invitation to dance….
As a typical bloke, I love rugby league. For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s one of the football codes played by men running and tackling each other – trying to get a ball across a line. It’s huge here in Australia, and the showcase event is called State of Origin. This is a 3 game series played once a year, quite strangely on Wednesday nights.
So it’s a Wednesday morning in 1993 and I’m a single/divorced bloke looking forward to the end of the work day so I can grab a few beers and kick back at home watching game one of State of Origin. All good, right? Then the office cleaning lady comes up to me with this curious look, eyeballs me, nodding to herself… “You know, Guy, you should try this dance group I know of. It’s on tonight. Why don’t you go along?”
And I’m like… “Dancing? Are you serious? Tonight!” …or words to that effect.
“Yes. Ballroom dancing. You might like it.”
Well, this elderly cleaning lady is wise. She’s also a wonderful caring type who knows me well. And her ridiculous suggestion is a seed that sprouts during the day and has me questioning the merits of sitting at home alone watching men thump each other on TV versus dancing with a woman. In real life. Like – in my arms, where no woman has been in a couple of years…
And so I go on to miss the complete 1993 State of Origin series in favour of my first social ballroom dance classes, where a nice fairy tale ending would have me hooking up with a new love on the first night. Alas though – not so easy. There’s still the baggage from my failed marriage to sort through. So before venturing on to dancing and some tentative steps forward, let’s rewind to the beginning of this little saga and have a look at a few of the highlights that led me into hiding in the first place.
I need to rewind all the way back to 1977. Age 14, nearly 15. Locking eyes on a girl in a bright-pink bikini. And although I’m going to talk about teenage romance for a bit, let me just qualify this by pointing out that there’s a feeling here that I’ve felt twice in my life: once at age 14/15 and again in my late 30s (which I’ll get back to later). So this, to me at least, is not a teenage thing… It’s about being ‘new’.
Now – a girl in a bright pink bikini. Never seen her before. This is summer school holidays, which is Christmas time down here in the south. I’m at the local public swimming pool with a buddy, where we’re regulars. And I’m super-shy. With everyone, and especially with girls. So of course I fail to say anything to this new girl, and that’s it – opportunity gone.
Until a few days later there’s an unusually loud skateboard over the back fence and I have a stickybeak to find the same girl hanging out with some other girls from my street. Awesome! Pink bikini girl has just moved in, and she’s made friends with people I know.
Now from this point until I have my first ever girlfriend, things move fast. But there’s a reason why they do, and it’s all luck. You see, I’ve been reading Zane Grey (the classic western romance writer) these past few years, and not long ago my best buddy and I went in search of a weekend farm job where we could ride some horses – and it turns out pink bikini girl has a horse and needs somewhere to keep it… And one thing leads to another… First ever girlfriend and smitten!
This is of course perfectly normal and commonplace. It’s the 70s. At this age everyone among our friends are sexually active. Relationships don’t usually last long. Kind of switching between who’s going steady with whom this week. But for pink bikini girl and I, it’s a bit different. We stick solid all through the Christmas holidays and into the next year. And my feeling of smitten grows beyond that during 1978.
As a matter of fact – to this day, if I could re-live any year of my life I would pick 1978 without the slightest hesitation. And I don’t mean to do it over and change something for the better or to influence future events. I mean I would re-live every moment of it precisely as it was.
Fresh new love. The kind where you wake up every morning and just smile. The kind where as a boy or man you have these protective feelings that absolutely buzz in your heart and your gut, making you feel more intensely alive than you can otherwise imagine. Alive with an addictive and highly arousing cocktail of aggression, sexuality and care pumping through your veins. One that inspires a delightfully contrasting sense of power and tenderness.
Pink bikini girl’s name is Heather.
It’s 1978 and I fucking love Heather. Sorry for the language but I’ve got it so bad for this girl. Maybe it’s a personality thing. My world is completely rocked by the smell, touch, taste, sight of her. Every day and until late at night. We’re only teens but we have opportunity to spend time alone together. Lots of it. We both have plenty of freedom granted by parents, even on school nights. On weekends and all through school holidays we go horse riding and are living the dream for mine…. From late 1977 until mid-1979 we’re inseparable.
Then circumstances change. There’s a custody issue, and Heather is moved away. The dream hits the wall right there. But not to be defeated, and with the spirit of adventure inspired by Zane Grey western romance pounding in my 16yo heart, I take off for the outback. My big plan: to make a life for my beautiful girlfriend out where the horse riding is for real.
Yes – there I am a three day bus ride over a thousand miles into cattle country – there to take on the world and be one of the Zane Grey cowboy heroes. Home is on the edge of a big city by the way. Our horse riding was at a small farm within walking distance of our suburb.
But this is what it’s really all about. This is the life we’re going to have together. Out here in a cottage under the huge outback sky…
Well it takes about a month for the ‘Dear John’ letter to arrive.
But this is actually okay. So developed and honed are my romanticizing skills, that I’m able to twist being dumped by the girl I love into a part of the bigger romance. This simply means that I need to adventure further and find a new love. It’s exciting – the prospect of a whole new girl to fit into my picture of the dream life in a cottage under the outback sky.
Hahaha…. Okay I just have to pause for a chuckle. Zane Grey was a great writer though. He really brought that romantic adventure to life, and he even wrote a story set in the Aussie outback. I read all of his books over and over throughout my early teens and my dreams were set…. But getting back to the story…
So it’s late 1979 and I’m 16 and filled with the spirit of adventure. I travel around the country trying different jobs for a few years, not meeting any girls to get smitten over. I write Heather at age 18 and tell her I still love her. She writes back.
I’m working on a sheep farm near the far west coast of the country at this time. I’ve made my way across the deserts and am sitting on a rocky hill over two thousand miles from home when I tear open the envelope. “I love you too, but it’s a love of memories,” she writes.
Which is nice, right? I’m thinking warm and fuzzy thoughts about Heather now. Just remembering how great it was to be with her but yes – as a nice memory. I’m fine with that…
So I continue on adventuring a little but soon decide to go home. It’s late 1981. I come home for Christmas and pick up a farm job nearby that suits me perfectly. During 1982 and into 1983, I’m having a great time as a single guy with a car and kicking arse at work, climbing the ladder into management. I’m 20 now and becoming a man. Still with no particular girl to get smitten over though.
Then one day I bump into guess who?
Yep. Heather is back in town visiting a girlfriend.
Well, I lock eyes with her and I’m gone!
“I’m going to marry you.”
That isn’t the first thing I say to her, but it’s not far from the very first thing. It’s definitely within a week. It’s at her girlfriend’s house, saying goodnight on the front porch. I’m one step down and looking up into her eyes…. I just can’t stop gazing into her eyes.
All of Zane Grey’s romantic adventure has led me to this spot. To this exact place in time…. It’s a simple statement of fact – I’m going to marry the girl…..
Our first home together is a caravan. It’s big. It’s nice. Soon there’s a baby on the way and we marry and move into an apartment. Within a year or so I’ve been given the use of a company farm house (Hillcrest Park from my blog bio). Heather and I work hard together tidying it up and painting it. Things are going good. Life is sweet and filled with young married couple love.
Then I fuck it up. Sorry about the language again, but you know that one moment you’d go back to if you could? Not the nice one you want to re-live. I’m talking about that one where you turned left and you should have turned right. The one you could simply switch around and possibly change the rest of your life for the better…. This is that moment for me. Like a complete idiot, I pack up my wife and child and take them out into the country to live.
I’m chasing that foolish romantic dream from the story books again. And I haven’t planned and thought it through. And it’s going to collapse beneath me in a couple of years.
Oh it’s all fine for a while. A nice country cottage. A quiet, peaceful life. I’m living the dream again with my beautiful wife and baby. I’m thinking this is great. I’m the strong provider, working hard and coming home to warmth and love.
This is now the mid-eighties though, and times are changing fast. My archaic notions of being the man of the house and sole provider are outdated. I’m only blue-collar middle management and not on megabucks. Financially, we’re getting left behind and will soon be without options… Options that we need because my silly romanticizing has me blinded to the fact that Heather is not happy stuck out in the country with me.
Nope. By 1991 my decision to leave a good job and life nearby our home city and take my new young family away has done full circle and bitten me on the arse. Hard. Now we’re back in the city on a single income that just doesn’t cut it. And before the year is out, I’ve been replaced.
To 28yo me in 1991 it is that stark… My wife and child now live under another man’s roof… I’ve been replaced.
To take a moment in 2016 for clarity: There are of course dimensions and complexity in relationships that I’m not going into here. Heather was well entitled to her choice. I think I understand some of the personal reasons why she made it and have zero hard feelings now. Only nice memories.
Back to the early 90s me however – I’m not taking this well. I feel like I’ve worked my arse off doing my best to provide and have been told, categorically, that I’m not good enough. The last thing my beautiful pink bikini girl says to me with any level of intimacy is, “I’m not going to be poor when I’m 40.”
So it’s over. I’m suddenly single again. This is something I’ve not given a thought to. The idea of not being with my wife is completely foreign to me. I may as well be on Mars.
I’m hopeless when it comes to financial planning and can make the dumbest decisions based on stupid romantic notions. Those are flaws in my personality. One flaw I don’t have is to look for a crutch when times are tough. No, I’m gutted and heartbroken so I turn to work and double down my efforts there as a coping mechanism. The job I have is the same one I left 5 years ago, but I need to work my way back up the management ladder. I’m giving energy to nothing else over the next few years. I don’t do casual hook-ups and need to feel something to be with a woman. I’m completely numb in that regard, so women aren’t really an issue. Just work and TV mostly – enjoying my rugby league.
It’s now 1993, and to pick up from the beginning of this story – instead of watching the State of origin series this year I’ve started ballroom dance classes.
For the first time in several years there’s perfume and the soft touch of a woman’s hand within mine….
I’ve got to tell you – getting hold of a woman after a two year drought feels good. Even though it’s just for a dance, it feels bloody good…. And added to this is the fact that I happen to have a smidge of natural talent on the ballroom floor. What about that huh? Who would have imagined?
Then there’s some simple physical attributes in my favour: I’m 6 feet tall, so taller than most women, even in heels. I’m fit, so not overweight or anything. I have a straight, upright posture and kind of broad shoulders… All perfect for dance partnering pretty much any lady… And within a year I’m also developing into quite a strong lead – able to guide my partner and sweep her nicely into the music.
And yes – I’m getting attention beyond dancing.
But beyond dancing, I’m a man with zero confidence.
The contrast couldn’t be more stark. On the dance floor – full of confidence. Face to face with a woman – alone with her… I’ve got nothing. In my mind and heart I’m a failure as a man. My ex-wife and child live under another man’s roof… I can’t get past that fact…
I know I should be able to just move on. I’m absolutely not holding any hope of reconciliation with Heather. I wouldn’t have her back anyway. But the fact remains (to my way of thinking) she was right…. To my way of thinking, the first responsibility of a husband is to provide for his family. And I failed to do that well enough.
And furthermore, I’m in no position to provide for anyone new. The divorce left me in a bad-debt situation with high interest. That and child support payments. I’ve got years of scrimping and saving ahead of me to create any financial security.
So the answer to the gossip around the dance group about why I’m not asking anyone on a date or bringing a partner..? Well it’s just that I’m in no financial position to do either of those things.
Right or wrong, fair or unfair – I feel the need to repair my own situation before inviting anyone else in…. Or is it more a case of being afraid of being hurt again? Are my financial difficulties a nice easy excuse for avoiding the risk?
Well anyway, this limbo sets in. It’s a weird place. All the female attention is somehow satisfying enough to take the pressure off…. I mean – I’m not ‘getting any’ (lol) but I’m getting plenty of female contact and no shortage of interest – especially from married women. Go figure…. Over this next couple of years no less than half a dozen married or attached women do more than look my way (naughty girls)… I mean bringing me home-cooked treats. Inviting me to their house or stopping by mine. Clinging inappropriately close and just the look…. Even to the point where more than once I need to physically put a woman aside and remind her she has a hubby at home….
I’m guessing this attention is from a combination of the dancing and an air of mystery, as I’m still quite shy and don’t say a lot. And all of this is kind of enough for me in a way. It’s certainly building my confidence, but I must still be broken deep down because I’ve started writing these poems or something. These verses about love and stuff.
Here, I’ll put a couple in if you promise not to laugh…
Stuff like this:
Flowers will blossom if you say her name
And the sun won’t rise until she wakes
And the wind will blow if she has to wait
And time slows down when she’s running late
And rain clouds wait upon her tears
And wild dear sense her every fear
And small birds sing when she walks by
And if she’s happy they can even fly
And grass turns green everywhere she walks
And people fall in love whenever she talks
And when there are stars she’s out that night
And if she looks up the moon will rise
And if she looks at you it’s pure delight
And when she looks at me she’s mine
Then other stuff like this:
Forever ends when there is no longer the need
Yes, you’ve trudged a thousand miles in bare feet
Through rain and snow and through searing heat
Across ice and stones and you have bled I see
There before me broken upon your knees
Yes, so wonderful an effort there has never been
Nothing greater in your life will you possibly achieve
Everything you are is all you will ever be
But your best is just not good enough for me
So yeah – wallowing in self-pity a bit, but I’m not totally desperate and alone. I’m also getting out there and meeting people. Hanging out with friends and doing lots of dancing. And everything’s kind of a little bit weird and there’s the absence of real intimacy, which is just wrong. But it all kind of rolls along through the middle and late 90s. And then one day I meet Clair.
And Clair changes everything.
Now Clair isn’t married but she is in a relationship. And so far, I’ve probably been guilty of playing up to attention a bit in these situations, but I’ve never crossed the line.
Well with Clair, that isn’t going to be possible. From the first time I see her holding someone else’s baby and making goo goo noises at it… Well, suddenly I’m feeling scared way down deep. Scared and – I don’t know – alive! This is a woman I instantly want to take hold of, and it’s not about dancing this time… I basically want to kiss her – for one thing.
No – more than that…. I want to be the guy she kisses. I want her to leave her boyfriend and come to me.
And I start working on that. Lingering looks. Suggestive words. To which she responds.
Then one night the boyfriend is out of town and things culminate in an evening of intense passion. One that has me all the way back to 1978 and riding the crest of that wave of delight once more.
This connection has been several months coming, mind you. I’ve actually known Clair for about 6 months, with the tension building gradually over that time. My own trepidation has vanished though, and I’m ready to take some serious risk here.
I don’t stay the night. I’m at home staring at the ceiling through the early hours, anxious to see Clair again in the morning. There is still the issue of her boyfriend. She’s planning to break that off of course.
And she does break it off that next day, but what follows is a weekend where she’s away and alone with her family, and upon her return she is unable to continue what we’ve started. She’s riddled with guilt.
I mean – sorry, but shit!
What have we got here exactly? The ex-boyfriend is gone. I’m not entirely certain, but the break-up seems to have been amicable at least. And it also seems that I now represent something akin to a sin. And as the days and weeks pass Clair is very friendly with me, but there’s a line that is not to be crossed again.
And this situation remains unchanged as months go by. My feelings for Clair have me bursting in every sense of the word but we share a workplace in which I’m the boss. And sexual harassment at work sucks so I can’t go anywhere near that. And moreover the standards for keeping personal crap out of the workplace are ones that I don’t only have to uphold – I have to actually set the standard. My behaviour must be exemplary.
But the beautifully alluring Clair is right there in front of me every day. We’re hanging out quite often after work as well, but there’s still this barrier. I’m not sure – I’m guessing it’s a combination of something in Clair’s life, probably to do with her ex, plus a good dose of my insecurity with love and the fact that I’m on the edge of all or nothing…
I’m not sure, but a good twelve months or so passes in this new and excruciating limbo before something innocuous happens to tip me over the edge. One day we pass in the street. Clair is coming from the post office and I’m going in. We’re saying hello there on the walkway and a bunch of other people pass, causing me to step aside and closer to Clair. And, well, it’s totally subliminal on her part but she edges slightly back and folds her arms. As I’ve obviously invaded her personal space.
Well the next day I have to drop something off at her house and she invites me to stay for dinner. We’ve been eating together a lot this past year, but this time I decline the offer. It’s the first time I’ve ever declined any chance of contact with her.
The day after that I hand in my resignation at work and make plans to move interstate for a fresh start. Her reaction to that is to shut me out completely over the next few weeks.
My final work day is with Clair. It’s a Sunday and we’re working alone together. She’s quiet, but I’m not shut out anymore. There’s a couple of lingering glances that I haven’t seen since before… There’s a completely different air about her when she sits on the ground at one point and rests back, inviting me to sit with her… And I don’t know what we talk about right then – something about the day or whatever – but I’m under her spell the way I have been since the moment we kissed….
Am I supposed to kiss her right now – sitting back there like that? Now? Finally? When my car is packed ready to leave the state?… I’m not reading her. I just don’t know.
And the parting hug that afternoon with the beautiful Clair is unfathomable to me. The barrier is gone – the hug is full and uninhibited. I’m the one who breaks it off… And the look in her eyes that one final time is direct and clear – filled with I don’t know what exactly. It’s a tiny piece of that one night of passion together and will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Those two women – Heather and Clair – the idea of them… Yep. Going to haunt me for the rest of my life without a doubt. And more so the brush with Clair rather than the marriage with Heather. That one evening with Clair was incredibly intense for me. It was the bursting of a dam in terms of emotion. And it was like immediately slamming shut those flood gates. As fate would have it that was cruel. And the unfulfilled desire that I experienced is even more powerful than the short romantic life I lived quite fully with Heather. If that makes any sense.
But moving forward there is also the opportunity to live out romantic dreams in fiction. You know how as a reader you can so wonderfully immerse yourself in the story? Well you ought to try writing. You live the drama just as intensely, and you get to decide what happens next.
Getting back to the mid-nineties when I was writing those ditsy verses and exercising my demons, I actually moved back into my beloved Hillcrest Park. The old farm house Heather and I fixed up all those years ago. Which probably didn’t help with the demons I guess. Lol. But I also started to write more positive fictional stories sitting on that veranda looking down at the duck pond. Those are the stories in Conduit of Souls.
It’s now 2003 though and I’m pushing 40 (see the picture above). The internet has arrived and I’m into online dating sites. I have a terrific new job and am quickly establishing financial security. I’m feeling confident and like a new man. Still a bit jittery about love but this is a known quantity now and I’m tired of missing out.
The dates are going well. Nothing earth shattering yet but then again I’m feeling kind of measured anyway. I guess that’s the way of internet dating – you’re looking for something specific and not making that call unless the criteria suits.
So I’m cruising along just dating for a spring and summer until I meet the lovely Lena, with a whole other horror-love story of her own to tell. And by the time we fumble through to our first intimate encounter, the morning after question – smiling over breakfast – is really rather simple….
“Well, Lena… Shall we dance?”